Quick Tip: Adding Quilt Borders

Adding simple borders to a quilt top.

When I first started making quilts I ran into trouble when I attached my borders.  To do so I would cut the borders the length specified in the pattern, sew them on, and then trim the extra fabric if there was any.  With that approach, I was never completely happy with the results. 

My early quilts did not turn out square, with right angles at all the corners.  Some were slightly trapezoidal or even worse, had wavy sides.  Fortunately, before I had made too many quilts, a good friend told me what I was doing wrong.  Instead of using border length specified in the pattern, she recommended that I measure my quilt top and use those dimensions to determine the correct size of my borders.  It was life changing.

Why is it so important to carefully measure and sew quilt borders?  As I found out, sewing borders onto a quilt without measuring can be a recipe for disappointment.  Even with the goal to piece together a flat, square quilt top, it is not unusual for the edges of an unfinished quilt to be slightly different lengths. This variance occurs because the edges of a quilt can become stretched out of shape during quilt construction, or due to imperfect piecing, or unintentional variation in your seam allowances, or simply due to careless pressing. 

Because of this potential variation, you never want to measure a quilts outer edges to determine the appropriate border length.  Adding borders correctly will square up your quilt. 

Borders are usually sewn to the two longest sides of the quilt first and then to the remaining two sides with the final two extending straight across the ends of the first border.

Recommended Steps for Adding a Border

  1. Decide the width of the border you wish to have on your quilt.
  2. Cut your border strips that exact width.
  3. To determine the length of the border, you must first measure the quilt from top to bottom, through the vertical midpoint.

4. Cut two border strips the exact length determined in step 3.
a. If your border stirp is not long enough, piece the border strips, end-to-end, to realize the appropriate length. Make sure you press the seam allowance open to reduce the bulk.

5. Sew these first two borders to the quilt.
a. Fold the border in half crosswise to find its midpoint, use your finger to crease it slightly in that spot.
b. Find the quilts horizontal midpoint.
c. Place the border along the side of the quilt, right sides together and midpoints matched. Pin through both layers to keep the fabrics from shifting.
d. Match and pin the bottom end of the borders to the bottom edge of the quilt, then match and pin the other end of the border to the quilt.
e. Continue matching and pinning the border to the entire side of the quilt, pinning at close intervals if you need to ease in the fullness to coax the two lengths to match.
f. Raw edges should be aligned along the quilts entire edge.
g. Sew the border on with ¼” seam allowance.
h. Press the seam towards the border.
i. Repeat the process to sew the remaining border to the opposite side of the quilt.
j. Now, measure the quilt from side to side through the horizontal midpoint, including the widths of the side borders you have just added.

k. Cut or piece together two borders that exact length.
l. Fold the border in half crosswise and crease. Pin the midpoint of the border to the vertical midpoint at the top of the quilt, right sides together and raw edges matched.
m. Continue matching and pinning the border to the quilt just as you did the side borders.
n. Sew the border to the quilt with a ¼” seam allowance and press the seam towards the border.

6. Repeat the process to add additional borders.

TIP: Put area of fullness against the feed dogs. For example, if the border strip has fullness, sew the body of the quilt on top. If the quilt top has fullness, sew with the quilt body against the machine and the border strip on top. The sewing machine feed dogs will help ease the fullness.

NOTE: Some quilters prefer to measure the quilt length and width in multiple spots, add them together and divide by the number of measurements taken to determine an average length.

Measuring your quilt may add some additional time to the process of attaching borders to your quilt but, if you do, you will likely be much happier with the results. Measuring will help you to produce a flat, squared quilt. This is especially important when you are taking your quilt to a long-arm quilter because any extra fabric can make the quilting process more difficult.